History

original Army Medical School building

Since 1893, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) has been a leader in solving the most significant threats to Soldier readiness and lethality such as disease and battle injury. WRAIR’s broad research capabilities at its Washington, D.C., area and expeditionary laboratories function in concert to afford Soldiers the best medical protection and support possible before, during, and after deployment by addressing both longstanding and emerging threats. Though WRAIR’s research is focused on Soldier health, its products have important civilian applications, saving countless lives around the world.

WRAIR traces its roots back to the U.S. Army Medical School (AMS), founded by Army Surgeon General George Sternberg, considered the first American bacteriologist. Under his ethos that the “duty of an Army Medical officer is to preserve the efficiency of his command by guarding it against unsanitary influence and preventing disability from diseases,” the AMS is one of the first public health and preventive medicine institutions in the United States and has always had a mandate to improve Soldier readiness and lethality.

From the beginning, AMS products resulted in a dramatic drop in Soldier casualties. At the turn of the nineteenth century, WRAIR’s namesake, Major Walter Reed, led boards that showed the world how typhoid and yellow fevers spread, allowing for more effective quarantine measures and camp construction during and after the Spanish-American War. Building from this knowledge, AMS developed the first typhoid fever vaccine and chlorine-based field water purification. After World War II, WRAIR's mission expanded to malaria prevention and treatment, combat stress, wound care, chemical weapons defense, and military dentistry.

In 1960 and 1969 respectively, WRAIR began operations in Thailand and Kenya with the establishment of the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate - Africa (USAMRD-A). These strategically located laboratories are hubs for a dynamic network of field sites throughout Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, allowing for the early detection, prevention, or elimination of medical threats to a Soldier’s ability to compete and re-compete anywhere in the world.

Tracing its roots to a military psychiatry laboratory established in Germany in 1977, the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate - West (USAMRD-W) was operationalized at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in 2015 to focus on improving behavioral and psychological resilience in the warfighter. The most recent addition to WRAIR’s network of overseas laboratories is the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate - Georgia (USAMRD-G); established in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2014, USAMRD-G is a state-of-the-art reference laboratory positioned to surveil and characterize existing and emerging pathogens.

WRAIR’s modern mission is organized into the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) and the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience (CMPN). CIDR focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of military-relevant infectious diseases to maintain readiness in deployed forces. WRAIR's global network works with CIDR to prevent threats such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, dengue, diarrheal diseases, multidrug-resistant organisms, and emerging diseases such as Zika and Ebola.

CMPN aims to protect brain health before, during, and after deployment by focusing on behavioral health, combat stress, sleep management, and brain injury. CMPN scientists have developed, validated, and implemented several training regimens to improve psychological resilience, elucidated and exploited the long-term relationship between sleep and performance, characterized and prevented blast and direct trauma to the brain, and helped identify blood biomarkers for diagnosis of concussion. Staff from CMPN and USAMRD-W have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea as part of Mental Health Advisory Teams (MHATs) to provide commanders with vital information regarding the emotional and psychological health of their Soldiers with actionable information to improve Soldier well-being.

In 2018, WRAIR began a major reorganization. The new Center for Enabling Capabilities (CEC) streamlines existing platforms to allow WRAIR to quickly and effectively innovate: the Veterinary Services Program, with a newly modernized vivarium to support preclinical research; the Clinical Trials Center, capable of conducting Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials; and the Pilot Bioproduction Facility, renovated with an expanded capacity to manufacture vaccines and therapeutics to meet a DOD-wide need. Other new groups, such as the Research Programs Office and Research Transition Office, streamlined WRAIR’s ability to work closely with partners in the federal government, academia and industry and operationalize new techniques and therapeutics. WRAIR is built to detect, mitigate, and eliminate medical threats to Soldiers, allowing them to face any enemy, anywhere in the world.

WRAIR proudly works to protect, preserve and enhance our Nation's top weapon system - the U.S. Soldier!